Facing a task you don’t want to tackle? Got a cookie sheet in the cupboard? You’re ready to start procrastibaking.
The practice of baking something completely unnecessary with the intention of avoiding “real” work is a surprisingly common habit that has only recently acquired a name, a mash-up of procrastinating and baking.
“I started procrastibaking in college as a way to feel productive while also avoiding my schoolwork,” said Wesley Straton, a graduate student in New York City. “Baking feels like a low-stakes artistic outlet.”
Some procrastibakers like to make long, slow recipes that take up an entire day, returning to their spreadsheets between steps. Those who use baking as a transition into a creative state of mind are more likely to stir up a quick banana bread or pan of brownies.
“My personal favorite time suck is baking macarons,” said author Jessica Cale. “Not only does it take quite a lot of time and patience to figure out how to get them right, but it can take up to three days to complete the process.”
Procrastibaking quickly has become a thriving hashtag on Instagram, where #procrastibaking posts proliferate just before annual rituals of anxiety, such as exam weeks or tax day. But it doesn’t have to be tied to a special event. On any given day, baking photos are popular on Instagram, whether they are of plain chocolate chip cookies or a pastel rainbow-stripe cake.
It’s clear that for many cooks, today’s telecommuting jobs, combined with the comforting rituals of the kitchen and the lure of Instagram “likes,” have made procrastibaking irresistible.
“I should admit that I find many ways to procrastinate, but most of them, like weeding out the sock drawer for singletons, are just not as Instagrammable,” said Allison Adato, an editor at People magazine.
Rachel Courville, a veterinary student at the University of Missouri, has baking sessions alongside study sessions. “To decide what to make, I just think, ‘What will make my future, super-stressed-out self a little happier?’ ” (The answer, she said, is usually cake.)
Most forms of procrastinating leave the task-dodger feeling guilty, said Tim Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa. One allure of procrastibaking is that it ends up producing something that, especially if it’s elaborate, can be a source of pride that is then reinforced by family members excited by the surprise treat.
A work in progress
Best practices for procrastibaking are still being established. “The ‘fun’ component is essential to procrastibaking, so your product should not be something that you need to make,” said Amy Sentementes, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who writes a blog about eating well. Getting a head start on making dinner by baking sweet potatoes until they caramelize is a great project, she said, but it’s not procrastibaking.
Also, any recipe that requires going to buy ingredients is not in the spirit of procrastibaking. The procrastibaker must believe that it is possible to be simultaneously working while buttering pans and separating eggs. A shopping trip to buy cocoa powder destroys the fantasy that the baking is not really an interruption of the work.
Jonathan Martin, a medical student in London, said the best recipes for effective procrastibaking are those with many steps, allowing the procrastibaker to get some work done in between and sustain an illusion of efficiency. “I make a few sourdough loaves, with the autolyzing, bulk proofing and then final rising steps all hours apart,” he said.
There’s a description of procrastibaking, before it had that name, in a poem by Grace Paley called “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative” (published in “Begin Again,” her 2000 collection). It begins: “I was going to write a poem/I made a pie instead.”
A novel idea
Other writers have said that procrastibaking is actually part of their work routine, allowing them to perform a task that is conducive to creative thinking.
Mia Hopkins, a Los Angeles romance novel writer, came to procrastibaking late.
“When I was schoolteacher, I used to procrastinate by reading and writing romances,” she said. “When I started writing romance full time, I had to find a new way to procrastinate.”
She said that procrastibaking is her way out of writer’s block — especially pie, because it is more stimulating to the senses than other recipes.
“You can bake an entire cake without touching anything,” she said. “With a pie, you squeeze the dough, you slice the fruit, you crimp the crust.”
Surprisingly, there are even professional bakers who procrastibake.
“I used to beat myself up over it, but I don’t anymore,” said Erin Gardner, a cake decorator in New Hampshire. “I think it’s part of my creative process, and I just need to submit to it.”
Her procrastibaking focuses on simple recipes, she said. That way she can compare herself to an athlete getting ready for a big game.
“We can’t just get out there on the floor and start playing and be at the top of our game,” she said. “We have to warm up, stretch, do our drills.”